A SpaceX flight is worth its weight in orbit

A SpaceX flight is worth its weight in orbit

After billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos jumped to the frontiers of space, astronautics company Elon Musk launched the Inspiration 4 commercial mission tonight, which will take four lucky people from around the world.

2021 will be the year when space tourism takes off. In mid-July, the founder of the Virgin group, Richard Branson, offered himself aboard his ship Virgin Galactic for a short two-hour tour to the frontiers of space (above 100 kilometers in altitude). Nine days later, Jeff Bezos followed suit to celebrate his retirement as CEO of Amazon, boarding a New Shepard rocket to lift himself out of the atmosphere for a few moments accompanied by his brother, a retired astronaut and son of a spoiled merchant. But these two billionaire-like offerings were just big leaps in terms of mission Inspiration4, which Elon Musk’s astronautics firm SpaceX has been preparing for months.

This Thursday at 2 a.m. (Paris time, we’ll be staying Wednesday night at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida) will take off the first orbital flight crewed only by “special” citizens, that is, not trained astronauts from a space agency like NASA or the European Space Agency. Installed aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, the same model that regularly transports astronauts to the International Space Station, the four American tourists will be sent to an altitude of 575 kilometers and will spend three days in orbit, repeatedly completing the Earth’s cycles, sunrise and sunset sequences until thirsty. Then it will land in the Atlantic Ocean, slowed down by large parachutes. Just like the astronauts returning from the International Space Station.

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The captain of the ship will be Jared Isakman, a businessman who made his fortune through a propulsion system called Shift4. It was he who paid for the tickets for the other three passengers, a secret amount not exceeding $200 million in total. An amount close to what NASA pays SpaceX to fly with the International Space Station, so given that each Crew Dragon flight costs about $55 million per astronaut. While Jared Isakman obtained his pilot’s license in 2011 and has flown many military aircraft before, not all of his guests have been regular cockpit goers.

A symbolic goal in the first place

Sian Proctor is a professor of geology at Arizona, a science facilitator and… almost an astronaut: She made it to the finals of NASA’s recruitment session in 2009, not being selected but spending months at the agency’s headquarters in Hawaii, simulating the lives of astronauts on Earth-like Planet Mars. She landed with SpaceX the second opportunity in her career, chosen by Isaacman through a competition dedicated to users of the Shift4 service. Hayley Arsenault is the star of Flight: cured of bone cancer and now wearing a prosthesis, she is the medical assistant at the Children’s Hospital who treated her (Saint Jude in Memphis) and will, at 29, be the youngest American to fly. in the space. Christopher Sembrowski, a US Air Force veteran, has done a lot of mediation with young people interested in space missions and campaigned in his youth to open private space flights. Selected by raffle among donors to Saint-Jude Hospital.

So what would the first real space flight in history look like? Some modifications have already been made to the ship to better enjoy the flight: under the round nose of the Crew Dragon, the space station’s docking system has been replaced with a large window inspired by the Crew Dragon. Dome of the International Space Station (And cameras to photograph both the interior and exterior of the ship). After being propelled into orbit, reaching a speed 10 times faster than the speeds of the Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos missions, the spacecraft will be steered from Earth, or placed on autopilot. We don’t ask tourists to worry about altimeters and broomsticks… But the four crew members don’t have their hands in their pockets: they all went through five months of training for astronauts, in order to ensure their physical condition or to learn how to manage a medical emergency, for example. The crew must perform some science experiments in microgravity, to take advantage of the opportunity and play the role of real astronauts, but the goal is above all symbolic. With the four Americans taking off 30 kilograms of hops to brew space beer, a jacket and ukulele, plush planes and various artworks are already being auctioned for the hospital. Saint Jude.

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SpaceX should continue its new activity as a space tourism operator from the end of the year, with Five-day missionIt is set to send four new tourists in zero gravity and break an altitude record by flying twice the height of the International Space Station. And in 2022, still aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX plans to take three businessmen to the International Space Station with the mission. Axiom Space-1. Elon Musk already imagines itself offering a rotation to the International Space Station up to twice a year if NASA availability allows, or even building its own space station for tourism…

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